Clear Pond Road by Kristin Hersh

Release date: September 8, 2023
Label: Fire Records

The fiercely independent and prolific alt-rock survivor Kristin Hersh – in the various shapes of the Throwing Muses, 50ft Waves, and as a solo artist – returns with her 12th album under her own title on Fire Records. Clear Pond Road is stripped to the bare-essentials of largely acoustic finger picking and strums with strings, cello, and mellotron, provide textural embellishments and atmosphere. It sets the tone for ten intimate songs of what reads as very personal reflections and memories.

Where the songs take an extra dimension and power is with Kristin’s idiosyncratic scorched voice: simultaneously tough, tender, vulnerable, strong. Though on Clear Pond Road the songs are less angry than in her full band settings, as they resemble similarities in style to her very first and high standard setter 1994’s Hips and Makers. Though that isn’t without its very intense moments.

Fast forward to 2023, in the press release Hersh describes this latest collection as ‘sweeter, sadder’, and the album’s many high points are just as intriguing and captivating, while also not without its own colours of intensity – ‘St Valentine’s Day Massacre’ and ‘Reflections on the Motive Power of Fire’ are two example of quieter playing can be just as effectively powerful.

Kristen shows her strong capability for delicate melodies, which bear fruit on the beautiful ‘Dandelion’ – the flower a symbol of growth, hope and healing – sees “Cupid drinking dandelion wine”. While on the album’s tender opener ‘Bewitched Reruns’ informs “it sounds like thunder in here”. Heavy strumming only really appears on the fuller and heavier ‘Ms Ha Ha’, which alongside ‘Eyeshine’ sees only two appearances of the splatter of drums across the ten songs.

Lyrically, it’s confessional, occasionally illuminating with little clues dotted around, but you are still largely feel kept in the dark. There is a sense of it all being very private thoughts and instil the juxtaposition of dark and light, which K.C in the press release calls ‘dark sunshine’. This heightens the mystery as Kristen avoids over-elaboration in-the details. Elvis Costello stylised, heavy on expansive description and character analysis, this is not.

Yet, this only enlarges the alluring nature of Clear Pond Road. Where Kristin sings “once more with feeling” and all the complexities at the heart of this compelling artist are inter-wined. It’s another fine collection of songs to add to her ever-increasing canon.

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